PV-1 Ventura Memories
Captain Steven L. Hull, US Navy (retired)
I enjoyed reading Norman Polmar’s article on the Lockheed PV-1 Ventura (“Historic Aircraft,” April, p. 8). In October 1943, my father and uncle joined the new Bombing Squadron 150 (VB-150), later Patrol Bombing Squadron 150 (VPB-150), flying the PV-1 Ventura.
Both were aviation radios. After performing coastal patrols along the California coast for several months in OS2U Kingfishers, they were to be transferred to a squadron heading into combat. They were given the choice of carrier-based dive-bombing squadrons or VB-150s. They chose the latter. Squadron aircraft featured a large devilfish (octopus) painted around the dorsal .50 caliber twin turret, with the turret as the octopus’ head and its arms wrapped around the fuselage. The squadron became known as the Devil Fish P-Viators.
VB-150 deployed to the Central Pacific in March 1944 and began war patrols from Tarawa’s Hawkins Field. Later they moved to North Field on Tinian, and when Army B-29s began to arrive they moved to West Navy Field. In March 1945, the squadron returned home. Aircraft no longer fit for combat were transported to Pearl Harbor by their crews. Those fit for combat were handed over to VPB-133.
The men of VPB-150 had Lady Luck on their side. They only lost one man killed in action. The only aircraft lost was the one captured by the remnants of the Japanese army on Tinian, which one day broke into the sugar cane fields adjacent to the aircraft and took control of one of the PV-1s. My dad said he and all the nearby sailors were sprinting for safety. The Marines appeared soon after. The Japanese refused to surrender and blew themselves and the plane up with grenades.
My dad and uncle flew over 50 combat missions each, with the caveat that they could never be on the same plane. My uncle’s plane got hit by flak, and my dad had a wheel-to-air landing. They liked the PV-1 because it was tough, fast, well-armed, and reliable. Once home and after a month off, they began training in the PV-2 Harpoon for the invasion of Japan. Then the war ended.
Preparations ‘on the fly’
Steven Iacono wrote an outstanding ‘obituary’ for the merchant ship Atlantic Conveyor which was commissioned during the Falklands campaign to transport vital aircraft and supplies for the British assault forces (“A Failure in the Falklands”, April, pp. 12-19).
The author strongly criticized the lack of self-defense weapons provided to the ship and the loading of so many aircraft and so much equipment into one ship. Based on interviews with naval officers serving at the time and examination of classified British and American files, it became apparent that preparations to retake the Falklands were undertaken “on the fly”. Such “finerties” as proper distribution of aircraft and materiel were severely hampered by weather and ship availability.
The deployment of warships, naval and amphibious auxiliary vessels and merchant ships from British ports to the South Atlantic began three days after Argentina invaded the islands. The British employed 37 commercial freighters and passenger ships for the 8,000 mile voyage to support the recovery of the islands.
In the face of anti-ship missiles and Argentine land and air bombardment, the British lost only two destroyers, two frigates, a landing ship and the Atlantic Conveyor. Given the many limitations of the British force, for example, no airborne early warning, only vertical take-off and landing (V/STOL) fighter aircraft, very limited long-range reconnaissance and the inability to arm quickly the merchant ships, it is surprising that the British losses were not greater.
Editor’s note: Mr. Polmar is the author of the Secretary of the Navy’s Report to Congress on the Falklands Campaign. He mounted the V/STOL transporter Hermes on part of its return transit from the Falklands to England.
“Ready to fight in any weather”
The problem with oral histories is that they are not always reliable. They should be checked against documented sources whenever possible, as it is not uncommon for interviewees to forget, exaggerate, or alter facts to suit their purposes (“As I Recall,” April, p. 63).
This is not the first time I have read Vice Admiral Gerald F. Bogan’s account (see “The Navy Spreads Its Golden Wings”, US Naval Institute Procedure, May 1961), which I discovered while researching my biography of Admiral Joseph Mason Reeves. Bogan’s claim that “the wind was blowing at 50 knots” seemed exaggerated, based on the new record of 127 landings in a single day set in the harsh conditions. So I checked the USS logbook langley (CV-1). The brisk breeze – between 5 and 6 on the Beaufort scale (17-27 knots), according to the newspaper – “wasn’t bad enough, in Reeves’ opinion, to halt flight operations,” I said. writes later. Brown shoes (naval aviators) at the time were condescending when it came to taking command from a non-aviator, despite Reeves wearing the wings of a naval observer. Reeves, an old sea dog with years of experience at sea, knew the importance of being ready to fight in any weather. The success of the day’s operations validates his decision to fly.
Editor’s note: Mr. Wildenberg is the author of All victory factors: Adm. Joseph Mason Reeves and the Origins of Carrier Air Power (Naval Institute Press reprint edition, 2019).